By Brandon Hull, Foodable Industry Expert
Advancements in interactive digital signage technology are opening the doors to what restaurants can do to engage on-premise guests. And we’re not just talking about sports bars here.
You’ll remember when digital menu boards came about. It was the 1990s. Those screens weren’t so hot then — just a digital representation of what could have been printed and mounted on the wall. They evolved to slideshow-like screens of information, with photos that changed before your eyes.
You may also recall when the first attempts at interactive digital signage emerged. It used to be a games-only experience – you could feature trivia and poker on a few of your TVs – if you were local sports bar and wanted that kind of crowd. Some of your ads could be interspersed throughout the programming to add a little branded flair, but that’s about it.
It’s only been in the last five years that we’ve seen more creative versions of digital signage. And we’re starting see some really cool, guest-engaging stuff.
Here’s how one chain and one independent are taking control of their screens. Hint: it starts with the guest.
“Customers get really excited to see their own words on-screen.” – Elton Keung, Boba 7, Los Angeles.
While it’s largely happening with local, independent restaurants, cafes, and nightclubs, there are some chains doing better things with their screens, like California-based The Coffee Bean, which broadcasts its free wifi password along with subtle, interesting information unrelated to the brand, but potentially appealing to guests.
Going beyond The Coffee Bean, though, get this: your restaurant’s screens can now be fully branded, social, location-based experiences. Screens where you control the content, the colors, the personality, and even the degree of guest engagement across multiple locations, without having to engage a digital agency to build it for you.
You don’t have to show solely sports or television programming. You’re not limited to digital menu boards. You don’t need an agency.
I spoke to David Weinfeld, a long-standing expert on digital signage and the brains behind a forthcoming solution called Venter, as well as Nanxi Liu of startup Enplug. Here’s what they’re learning from some of these initial implementations.
“Given how much time consumers spend on their smartphones, it's critical that in-venue digital signage also engages guests on mobile,” says Weinfeld. “Offering a more complete guest experience will allow operators to really differentiate themselves with the promotions they run.”
I’ve seen some of the things Weinfeld’s stealthy Venter is working on and they’re amazing. Part game, part social interaction, and all social, with no advertising.
Companies like Enplug and Postano are in the here and now. Both provide a beautiful user experience as part of their digital signage experience, displaying whatever specific social and static content media a restaurant brand desires.
“We really want to transform the customer experience while helping to increase the restaurant’s sales,” says Liu.
Imagine one or more screens in your location displaying carefully curated (and moderated) content from Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare, Yelp reviews (yes, only the positive ones), and Facebook, mixed with your own marketing messages as jpeg or png images.
Elton Keung, owner of Boba 7 and the forthcoming Boba 8 in Los Angeles, wants in-venue screens to seamlessly blend with the rest of his guest experience. He has one screen powered by Enplug at Boba 7, but at his upcoming Boba 8 location will use an additional screen to digitally display the artistic works of his own employees.
“I look for employees who have a lot more they bring to the table than working in a restaurant,” he says.
“We’re going to make it so customers’ Instagram photos and the still art I have on the other screen will sort of work together,” says Keung. “The still art transitions to other content that will come from our YouTube channel – and that channel will feature other creative work done by my employees.”
As for the Enplug display, Keung says this: “I do zero work. And I never have to worry about negative reviews or anything bad showing up. I like the way this is set up; it definitely adds a uniqueness to the Boba 7 experience,” says Keung.
“Guests come up with really cool content – better than a restaurant can come up with, and we can help restaurants better connect with their customers using that in their location,” Liu said.
Your boring digital signage can become branded social signage. And, really, why not?